Thursday, September 6, 2007

Weight loss pills

Tighter regulation by the FDA of misleading health ads is definitely needed.
At least the FDA does have oversight over print and television ads by the pharmaceutical industry. I am far more troubled by the ads for over-the-counter "food supplement" products, which the FDA has no power to regulate. For example, the pandemic of obesity has led to an ever-increasing spate of ads for useless weight loss pills on which consumers waste billions of dollars.
Federal Trade Commission recently levied fines of more than $25 million for false advertising of four weight loss products - Xenadrine EFX, Cortislim, TrimSpa and One-A-Day Weight Smart (a green tea extract added to a standard multivitamin preparation).

Particularly troublesome is the fact that the latter product is advertised under the widely respected Bayer name. The Bayer ad did recommend a lift-twist-and-bend exercise (which apparently consists of lifting the bottle, twisting off the cap, and bending a wrist to take the pill). Although the advertisements are judged misleading, the products are not harmful and can still be purchased.

As often is the case, the marketing campaign for one of these products relied on a testimonial and endorsement by a celebrity. Of course, such celebrities are paid by the supplement maker and may be aided by diet coaches and personal trainers who help the weight loss pill achieve its goal. It's hard to believe, but people apparently accept as gospel the statements made in these promotions and the benefits claimed in testimonials.

It's time that newspapers and magazines stop accepting ads from weight loss pill manufacturers. Some time ago, after seeing an ad with too many errors to list here, I wrote a letter urging the Baltimore Sun newspaper not to print ads for such questionable over-the-counter weight loss pills. Although the newspaper never responded, and it may be wishful thinking, I have the impression that they have recently printed fewer ads for such weight loss pills.


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